Self-Esteem, FU!

I hate the term self-esteem. Words are important, and the term is too vague, and frankly, a little creepy.

I say this as someone often accused of having low self-esteem, though I’ve never agreed. I’ve always felt it was right there in the middle, the one that Goldilocks would have chosen. I never have been happy with my looks, and doubt I ever will, but at the same time, so fucking what? It’s true when I was younger my self-loathing in this area caused me a lot of pain and insecurity. As a child and young woman thirsty for love and affection, it was natural to assume that if I had more going on in the looks department I’d be more quenchable.

But the good thing about getting older (maybe the only good thing) is that you’re exhausted from a lifetime of feeling shitty and self-preservation’s sanity kicks in and new realizations and priorities evolve. For example, you recognize no one really gives a shit about how you look. And people who do care a lot about your appearance, these people are — how you say? – JERKS.

Back to the term “self-esteem.” In the good ole days before fax machines, drones, the threat of nuclear war and new Kardashian spin-offs, no one said “self-esteem”. If you wanted to express feeling good about yourself you used words like “pride”, “satisfaction”, gratification”, “dignity” and maybe “self-respect”. You had a sense of your own value not because of who you were but how you were. It was doing, not being, that gave you a sense of who you were and why that person was OK.

Growing up, I learned from the culture and people around me that I wasn’t good-looking. Maybe society and my relatives didn’t mean to give me that message, but still I heard it loud and clear. But I couldn’t hate myself 100% because I also took notice of other metrics. I could tell I was smart because people kept giving me A’s, telling me how high my IQ was, and to stop raising my hand. I knew I was kind because kindness was very important to me and I proactively did things I hoped would make people, animals, and the occasional doll feel good. I knew I was curious and had opinions, and even if those qualities irritated others, one of my opinions was that those qualities were actually OK.

Well-meaning friends and popular pundits often suggest pulling a Stuart Smalley and looking in the mirror and telling myself nice things. But any sweet nothings I whisper to my incredulous self would be just that, nothing. I hate bullshit and I’m certainly not going to ply myself with it. That would just make me mad at myself, when I want to be proud of myself.

Instead of focusing on how I look, or who I am, I’d rather prioritize how I am. What do I do, whom can I help, how can I improve, whom can I stand up for, fight for? What can I do to become a better version of me?

The best version of me may not end up being all that. Still, I can take pride and satisfaction in knowing it’s the best I can do. If I’m true to myself and doing my best, I won’t need no stinkin’ self-esteem. (Just hugs, I’ll always need hugs.)

Now that I’m older and wiser, I want to take pride in the things I care about – intelligence, kindness, curiosity, cool sneakers – and letting the rest go. I’m sooo not there yet, but I have the feeling this self-esteem stuff is a journey, not a destination.  I’m going to do my best to focus on enjoying the trip.

Dixie Laite - Dame Town Writer

Author: Dixie Laite

I'm Sarah "Dixie" Laite -- a writer and branding consultant in New York City. I love classic movies, animals, flea markets, and "Law & Order" re-runs. I live with my husband, 2 dogs and 5 parrots in midtown Manhattan.All my life I've been obsessed with figuring out how to navigate life as a woman. There are endless books, TV shows, gurus, guys, movies and magazines out there to guide you. But now that I'm closing in on 60, I've noticed that the old rules don't apply, and most of the role models aren't old enough.I'm older now. I know more and I weigh more. I want to be inspired and I want to inspire. Let's get a handle on this shit and figure it out together.

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